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As many of you know, I have always loved toy trains, and I was overjoyed when my sons also developed an interest in trains. This meant I could buy them toys for me to play with :) When I found this set, new and still in original wrappings for £20 at a boot sale I was over the moon. I had originally thought to give it to my youngest son for Christmas as he loves trains so much, but then decided it was bit too delicate for a great toy. Instead I thought I would run a small circle of around the tree. This set is meant to be used as a large oval with two sidings connecting a smaller circle, but we were able to set up just a circle without the larger oval. Unfortunately the track was at the edge of the table and if the trains jumped the tracks, which was often they risked being broken to bits by the 18 inch drop. Another train fell apart and was badly damaged when my oldest son accidentally dropped it. he is very careful with toys and had tears in his eyes when this fell apart on the floor. Thankfully my husband was able to repair the trains, but they have been consigned to the attic once more until the boys are older, and the old Thomas Track master set re installed around the tree.
This is an absolutely lovely set. In all honesty I could have played with this for hours on end. It is very expensive, usually selling for near £100, but bargains can be found, bringing this down to about £60.
You do get a fair amount for this price though. You get two engines, Thomas and Percy, the two carriages, Annie and Clarabel, two open trucks, and a milk wagon. You also get a lovely power box which has been made to look like a station, quite and improvement over the old fashioned black boxes with tons of wires, and a small blue remote control. This station also makes wonderful train sounds. I am afraid I forgot to check if the remote took AA or AAA batteries before putting this back in the attic. It also came with a big plastic mat printed as a layout for the train. You can back the trains up to make them connect to the cars on their own. You can run one or both trains, but for some reason, our Percy was much faster than Thomas, which meant he ended up shunting Thomas around the track. Set up is fairly quick and easy for an adult, but the couplings on the track are small and delicate and could easily be damaged by a child.
The problem with this train is that it is very, very delicate. It is not at all suitable for young children, and by the time they are old enough to use this, many will be close to outgrowing Thomas. As I mentioned, I had a wonderful time playing with this and really loved it. However, childish as I may be, if I had the money to buy a train set for myself, I would certainly prefer a freight train or the old classic steam engines. Even my oldest son, who is five, would have preferred the Mallard, a very famous steam engine. The recommended age for this is ages 8 and up, and I do think that is about right. This will certainly be used again at some time in out house, but not for a good while.
I do appreciate that Hornby is made for serious collectors, not really for children, but I really do wish they would make a version suitable for younger children. Although I was never allowed an electric train as a child, as my Grandfather did not think they were a girls toy, I did get to play with a few, and they were far heavier and stronger. I think it would have been better to have made this set on a larger, and sturdier scale. It is OO, which is the smallest gauge. Even better, it would be wonderful if Hornby would design a set especially for young children, and the Thomas line would be a perfect way to introduce children to the joys of model railroads.
I am giving this toy 4 stars. It does loose one from me for being so very delicate. I would fully recommend this for older children who will be content to look at, but never touch the toy, as long as an adult will be able to set it up somewhere where there is no risk of a train falling if it jumps the tracks. But I would certainly ask an older child if they would prefer Thomas, or a more adult looking set up before spending that kind of money.
I would not recommend this to anyone with young Thomas fans who will want to touch the trains. I am still very happy with this for the price I paid - I will get to play with it someday, but would be disappointed had I paid full price.